Torah Weekly

For the week ending 4 December 2010 / 26 Kislev 5771

Parshat Mikeitz

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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It is two years later. Pharaoh has a dream. He is unsatisfied with all attempts to interpret it. Pharaoh's wine chamberlain remembers that Yosef accurately interpreted his dream while in prison. Yosef is released from prison and brought before Pharaoh. He interprets that soon will begin seven years of abundance followed by seven years of severe famine. He tells Pharaoh to appoint a wise person to store grain in preparation for the famine. Pharaoh appoints him as viceroy to oversee the project. Pharaoh gives Yosef an Egyptian name, Tsafnat Panayach, and selects Osnat, Yosef's ex-master's daughter, as Yosef's wife. Egypt becomes the granary of the world. Yosef has two sons, Menashe and Ephraim. Yaakov sends his sons to Egypt to buy food. The brothers come before Yosef and bow to him. Yosef recognizes them but they do not recognize him. Mindful of his dreams, Yosef plays the part of an Egyptian overlord and acts harshly, accusing them of being spies. Yosef sells them food, but keeps Shimon hostage until they bring their brother Binyamin to him as proof of their honesty. Yosef commands his servants to replace the purchase-money in their sacks. On the return journey, they discover the money and their hearts sink. They return to Yaakov and retell everything. Yaakov refuses to let Binyamin go to Egypt, but when the famine grows unbearable, he accedes. Yehuda guarantees Binyamin's safety, and the brothers go to Egypt. Yosef welcomes the brothers lavishly as honored guests. When he sees Binyamin he rushes from the room and weeps. Yosef instructs his servants to replace the money in the sacks, and to put his goblet inside Binyamin's sack. When the goblet is discovered, Yosef demands Binyamin become his slave as punishment. Yehuda interposes and offers himself instead, but Yosef refuses.


My Yiddishe Tatte

“Yisrael their father said to them, ‘if it must be so... Take your brother and return to the man. And may Almighty G-d grant you mercy before the man, that he may release to you your other brother as well as Binyamin’.” (43:11-14)

One of today’s most offensive and inaccurate canards must be the “Jewish Mother”. The “Jewish Mother” emasculates her offspring with suffocating affection, refusing to sever the apron strings that bind her brood. She wields emotional blackmail with the accuracy of a surgeon’s knife and the mercilessness of a Machiavelli.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Talmud (Shabbat 23b) teaches us that someone who does the mitzvah of lighting the lamps of Shabbat and Chanukah will have children who are talmidei chachamim (Torah scholars).

What is the specific connection between lighting lamps and being blessed with children who will be Torah scholars?

One of life’s great temptations is to think that we control events. “I got up at five every morning and that’s why I made a million.” “I practiced 12 hours every day and that’s why I’m a concert violinist.”

Who do you think gave you the strength and determination to get up early? Who do you think gave you the gift of music? There are plenty of people who get up at four-thirty who are still paying their mortgage. There are plenty of Yehudi Menuhin wannabes who can’t coax an Irish jig out of a fiddle.

Even when we do a mitzvah we think it’s me doing the mitzvah. It’s me putting on tefillin. It’s me making kiddush on Friday night. Me. I’m the one that’s doing it. Aren’t I?

The mitzvah of the menorah on Chanukah isn’t just to light it. The mitzvah includes that it should stay lit until people go home from the market. I can light my menorah — it’s me doing the lighting. But I can’t make it stay alight!No amount of encouragement from the sidelines will make that candle burn if the Master of all Creation doesn’t will it to continue burning. No rooting, no cheerleading can encourage that little fledgling candle to burn if G-d doesn’t will it to be so.

On Shabbat, one of the reasons the woman of the house lights candles is so that there will be light to see. For without light, someone might trip and fall and this would certainly upset the harmony of the home. In other words, the actual lighting of the lamps is only part of the mitzvah. The lamps must also give us pleasure and benefit as well. And for this, they need to stay lit.

The mitzvah of the lights of Shabbat and the menorah includes the realization that all we can ever do is to start the process. The rest is in the Hands of G-d.

It’s the same with raising children. Every parent hopes that his children will grow up to be healthy, wise and upright, but we cannot guarantee the process. We protect our children as much as is reasonable, but we cannot lock them in a padded room. We cannot put lead suits on them. All we can do is to kindle in them the spark. The spark of loving G-d; of loving their fellow Jew; of being a mentch. We cannot complete the process. It’s up to them — and to G-d. Eventually, all we can do is to stand on the sidelines with our prayers and our tears. What they will be is not up to us.

In this week’s Torah portion, Yaakov Avinu reluctantly allowed the brothers to take Binyamin down to Egypt. He realized that there was no guarantee that Binyamin would return to him. And yet he let him go. After doing everything that was reasonable, Yaakov put his trust in G-d that He would protect his son.

After lighting Shabbat candles on Friday afternoon, Jewish mothers have a custom to say a prayer. These are its concluding lines: “Privilege me to raise children and grandchildren who are wise and understanding, who love and fear G-d, people of truth, holy offspring, attached to G-d, who illuminate the world with Torah and good deeds and with every labor in the service of the Creator. Please hear my supplications at this time, in the merit of Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah, our mothers, and cause our light to illuminate that it not be extinguished forever, and let Your countenance shine so that we will be saved. Amen.”

Now that’s a Jewish mother.

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